January 4th, 2011

Gil Marsh cover

A few choice swear words

No, I’m not going to list them. This is about using them, or not, in a blog.

Chad Orzel wrote a thoughtful blog piece about first impressions, both in interviews and in reading blogs. He noted that a blog piece, whose subject he found interesting and mostly agreed with, turned him off when it referred to its readers with a sexual slur.
It's not that I find profanity totally abhorrent, either. [. . .] I'm not opposed to the strategic use of profanity on-line or in person-- the occasional curse dropped into a discussion of something can be a good way to get a class's attention.

In the end, I think it's more the attitude reflected by the language than the language itself. That sort of casual slur-- and there are a few others sprinkled through that post-- bespeaks a certain contempt for the audience, which makes me wonder why I would want to take the advice of a person who clearly thinks ill of the reader. Or why I would want to recommend that sort of advice to somebody else via the blog.
He notes that his attitudes about the use of profanity has changed with time.
Back in my Usenet days, I was much more inclined to pepper my posts with obscenities, and be directly insulting to people I was arguing with. As the blog has evolved over the years, though, I've dropped most of that. Because, ultimately, the goal of the blog is to communicate something to people, not to earn Clever Points by demonstrating my facility with profanity. This is going to be available to a huge number of people, some of whom won't be particularly impressed by using "fuck" as an adverb, so unless there's some good reason for it, I try to keep things relatively clean. There are other ways to demonstrate linguistic dexterity, when I feel the need.
Ultimately he figures it’s him who has changed over time.
Fifteen years ago, I probably wouldn't've noticed the language in the post to find it offensive. And I'm sure there are still a whole bunch of people reading blogs who find that sort of thing entertaining-- I've just moved out of the target demographic for that blog.
I tend to agree with Orzel. I now use profanity in writing rarely, and only for very specific purposes. I find it can wear thin. Besides, as a reader, I find I'm more amused by creative insults than ones that work like a sledgehammer.

I wonder what others think.

BTW, I do recommend Orzel's entire post. He has also some amusing thoughts about shoes, or rather, why he doesn’t spend too much time thinking about them.